With the holiday hubbub finally over, I was thinking about branding, not so much as it is today — a desperate struggle for corporate survival among companies where heads could roll at any moment if the stock price, which is probably checked every 15 seconds, should dip a point or two — but more as it was back in the day (an expression my 26-year-old nephew uses all the time, but I’ve never heard an old person use — until now) and how that may illustrate a problem I seem to have with computers.
Once upon a time, every major city had its own major department store — G. Fox & Co. “owned” Hartford, The Edw. Malley Co. had New Haven — but that was a pretty low-key kind of branding. Primitive. Quaint, even.
By the time I had entered the 12-to-18-year-old demographic, over whose business giant companies now wage full-scale war, marketing may have heated up a bit, but it was still sort of mellow. F’rinstance, everyone knew there were three big-name brands of jeans, but it was not at all clear that Lee and Wrangler would soon be left in the dust while Levis would conquer the world, and we had not yet reached the point where failure to possess the correct brand of something would almost drive flocks of teens to lie down on the train tracks. (This, by the way, was so long ago that you could still buy Wrangler jeans with Prentice zippers, made in Kensington.)
Anyway, fast-forward to now, and the middle- and high-school years seem like a video-game battlefield on which the makers of shoes and clothes and cell phones and every other product essential to teen-age life make battle by every means possible, from TV to Twitter to endorsements by whatever celebs can be bought (which, come to think about it, is probably around 100 percent). No wonder young people are so intensely brand-conscious these days. How do they even sleep?
Yrs Trly, on the other hand, seems to be pretty brand-indifferent, which I’m convinced speaks to a particular problem I have online: that I never seem to know who or what I’m dealing with. A dialogue box opens, demanding that I update something or something, and I can’t necessarily tell who’s calling and how important it may be. Is it Microsoft, my main software dealer? Is it a Windows thing, which I sometimes forget is just Microsoft by another name? (Still, there are dozens of Windows subcategories to sort out.)
Worse, I can’t even seem to tell a crisis from routine housekeeping. Is it a scary security alert? And does that mean I should do something? What if I don’t recognize the almost microscopic logo on the box? Is that McAfee, or just something designed to look like McAfee in order to fool me into giving up personal information to some evil malware monger who wants to either destroy all my settings or steal all my money, or both? Or is it a threatening-in-an-attempt-to-seem-helpful message from HP, my hardware supplier, which could mean doom for all my data? (And how come their logo looks like two hands about to reach out and grab you by the throat and squeeze some more money out of you?) Or is it some subsidiary software peddler, like Adobe this or Adobe that? And how come they’re always demanding updates, anyway, if their product, whatever it does, was so great in the first place, huh? And how am I supposed to know whether it’s important or not, or whether I should even care?
So, these are some of my issues with branding. Now, where’s my Extra-Strength Advil?
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.